After Occupying Ten Campuses for Two MonthsFirst-Round Student Victory in
University of Puerto Rico Strike
JUNE 22 – In Puerto Rico’s first-ever National Student Assembly, held yesterday, the almost 3,000 students present cheered as they ratified the agreements marking their initial victory in the strike of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). After holding firm for 62 days during which they occupied ten out of the eleven UPR campuses (the other was closed by a campus workers’ strike), the students successfully beat back a concerted attack by the right-wing colonial government and a servile university administration that did its bidding. When the settlement was announced late on June 16 the streets around the main UPR campus at Río Piedras in metropolitan San Juan exploded with joy. The celebration continued into the wee hours of the morning. The students won this round ... but the battle over public higher education goes on.
Everyone understands that the fight is not over. Today’s edition of the San Juan daily Primera Hora titled its article “ ‘The Struggle Continues,’ Despite the End of the Strike.” El Nuevo Día headlined: “Students Put UPR Strike on Pause.” On the main issues that provoked the strike in the first place – elimination of tuition waivers and introduction of “public-private partnerships” (disguised privatization) – the students won early on. But the UPR Board of Trustees then indicated it would impose a special fee of over $1,000 per student next semester, beginning in August, and threatened severe sanctions against strikers. The settlement stipulated that no fee would be imposed in August and there would be no summary sanctions. However, the Trustees said they still thought a special fee would be necessary in January (to pay investors for a loan), and some strikers could face disciplinary actions.
So the showdown over fees was postponed for some months and there will likely be a battle over administration reprisals. (Meanwhile, Governor Luis Fortuño is preparing for the next round by naming and ratifying at top speed four new hard-line trustees.) But this will take place with the university in session, giving the students several valuable months to reinforce their organization and demonstrate their power. And they can do so from a position of strength, having won this round. Even those who voted against the strike initially or were hesitant recognized by the end that it paid to resist. Thus the National Student Assembly voted unanimously to oppose any fees, and to carry out a “preventive strike” (including, if necessary, during the fall semester) if the administration announces its intention to impose them. In that case, it will be crucial to turn the widespread sympathy with the student strike among working people into active mobilizations of union power.
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International actively supported the UPR strike, gaining international solidarity for it in Brazil, Mexico, the U.S. and Quebec. IG comrades also spent a week in San Juan discussing with strikers and reporting on the vicious repression they faced (see our article, “Puerto Rico: Beatings at the Sheraton” [20 May]). In response to the announcement of the strike settlement, the IG sent greetings (translated below) saluting the strikers’ determination. A subsequent article will analyze the lessons of the UPR strike for the battle to defend public education against capitalist assault in the United States.
As you know, we in the Internationalist Group in the U.S. and the sections of the League for the Fourth International in Mexico and Brazil have closely followed the development of the strike at the University of Puerto Rico. We sought to make a modest contribution by obtaining expressions of solidarity with the important struggle you have waged. We now wish to salute you for the important victory which you have won in this battle, due to the resolve and determination of the UPR students and all those who have contributed their support during these nearly two months of hard struggle. By lasting “one day longer” than the boss, as the old trade-union saying goes, you have won something that serves us all, in many places, by showing that the ruling class, no matter how arrogant it acts, is not all-powerful and that we can win.
Recognizing that you have won an initial victory does not imply ignoring its limitations, nor the dangers that still loom over the University. The war goes on. You will have to fight in the coming months to prevent any disciplinary sanction against strikers that the authorities may attempt as a reprisal to make up for their defeat. If the most hardened reactionaries didn’t support the agreement out of fear that the strike could break out again in January, it must be made clear that this will be the response if they keep trying to impose a “special” fee, taking money from the pockets of the working people to pay interest to the bankers.
Clearly the colonial government and its servants who administer the UPR will soon be back on the warpath. By postponing for some months the definitive settlement of the conflict produced by their sinister plans to rip up and ultimately privatize public higher education, you have won valuable time to build up strength. We believe that trade-union and working-class support to the strike was a key element in being able to hold out for these 55 days. This support now has to be turned into hard-hitting workers action. We are all being pounded by the onslaught of capital, facing the blows of capital’s onslaught, and only together can we win.
The struggle for the right to free, high-quality public education for all is a class struggle, and for that very reason is an international struggle.
Comrades, please accept our congratulations for your victory, expressing the solidarity of those who fight together in a common cause.
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org